I had wanted for her something along the heart-warming lines of John Betjeman, whom we visited at St Pancras station. He at least is overseen by many people walking about, bright lights, CCTV. The First Wave, at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, upstate New York, is locked away securely. But what of the busts of Virginia Woolf, in Sussex and London? There are at least three versions of the Famous Five, outdoors in Canada: are they safe?
A little context on the mettle and the metal of the man. It sounds dry to say Alfred Salter (1873-1945) was a notable public health physician; it sounds idealistic to say he chose to live and practise in the dockers' slums of Bermondsey; it sounds heroic to say that he sacrificed his daughter to his principles. (She died of diphtheria, or was it scarlet fever, aged 11.) I first heard of the theft at Ian Bone's blog, where he reports that little Joyce and cat, also in bronze a few metres from the doctor on the bench, have been taken into care by the council, or, as London 24 put it, "Dr Salter feared stolen for scrap - daughter and kitten in hiding". The whole touching three-piece sculpture is (was?) called Dr Salter's Dream, created by Diane Gorvin, and beautifully set in place, like Betjeman, but in this case on the optimistically named Cherry Garden Pier. I had had it - and the sculptor - on my list of inspirations for Mary on the Green, and it would have appeared here next month anyway. But now it is gone.
the Evening Standard says the sculpture is worth £17 500, which seems odd. Perhaps that was the price paid to the sculptor, though given that it was only twenty years ago, the figure seems low. Surely it was insured for more? And in the end, it may only have been "worth" a couple of hundred quid to the thieves. What scrap merchant would accept a statue? The night theft the following month of a significant Barbara Hepworth bronze from gated Dulwich Park led to coverage of the issue by BBC news and the Wall Street Journal. The Daily Star of Lebanon chose to focus on Salter as the exemplar of the thefts:
For years a bronze statue of Alfred Salter sat on a bench looking out on a quiet bend of the River Thames, a memorial to a doctor who dedicated his life to a London district once infamous for Dickensian levels of poverty and disease. Now the bench is empty after his statue fell victim to a wave of metal thefts sweeping Britain, threatening artworks and ravaging infrastructure as thieves seek to capitalize on rising metal prices and a cash-in-hand scrap industry.What would Mary say?
Next Friday I'll have more on sculpture, and I promise it will be just as inspiring, without the tragedy.
[Addendum: Sculptor Diane Gorvin got in touch, and alerted me to a nascent campaign to raise a new statue to Alfred Salter, and, this time, his wife Ada too, the first female mayor in London. "A committed pacifist and Quaker she was imprisoned for a short time during the First World War", and her legacy in Bermondsey is the trees she planted and the housing she established.]